Liberals think that the title of Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism is an oxymoron. They’re wrong. Goldberg himself writes:
“For more than sixty years, liberals have insisted that the bacillus of fascism lies semi-dormant in the bloodstream of the political right. And yet with the notable and complicated exceptions of Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom, no top-tier American conservative intellectual was a devotee of Nietzsche or a serious admirer of Heidegger. All major conservative schools of thought trace themselves back to the champions of the Enlightenment–John Locke, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, Burke–and none of them have any direct intellectual link to Nazism or Nietzsche, to existentialism, nihilism, or even, for the most part, Pragmatism. Meanwhile, the ranks of the leftwing intellectuals are infested with ideas and thinkers squarely in the fascist tradition. And yet all it takes is the abracadabra word “Marxist” to absolve most of them of any affinity with these currents. The rest get off the hook merely by attacking bourgeois morality and American values–even though such attacks are themselves little better than a reprise of fascist arguments” [page 175].
“Foucault’s “enterprise of Unreason,” Derrida’s tyrannical logocentrism, Hitler’s “revolt against reason.” All fed into a movement that believes action is more important than ideas. Deconstructionism, existentialism, postmodernism, Pragmatism, relativism: all these ideas had the same purpose–to erode the iron chains of tradition, dissolve the concrete foundations of truth, and firebomb the bunkers where the defenders of the ancient regime still fought and persevered. These were ideologies of the “movement.” The late Richard Rorty admitted as much, conflating Nietzsche and Heidegger with James and Dewey as part of the same grand project” [Goldberg, Liberal Fascism, page 176].
It turns out that most of the moral and philosophical assumptions of liberalism have been shared by not only the Marxists, but the Nazis as well. NAZI stood for “National Socialist German Workers Party,” and was merely a rival brand of the clearly leftist political ideology of socialism. And given the fact that Marxism was in fact every bit as totalitarian and murderous as Nazism, in hindsight it seems rather bizarre that “Marxist” was ever an abracadabra word that the American left was willing to bear to begin with.
The purpose of this article is to explore how the foundational ideas that liberals uphold as being the opposite of fascism in fact actually fed the monster of fascist Nazism, and how the modern American left continue to fall prey to fascist premises and outcomes to this very day.
It is particularly interesting that the supposedly highly individualistic and influential school of thought known as “existentialism” became so ensnared by fascism and Nazism. On the surface, existentialism would seem to be the very polar opposite of fascism and Nazism. After all, a philosophy of radical freedom centered in the individual would surely be incompatible with a totalitarian social system that denies political liberty in the name of the community. One would assume that existentialism would be a philosophy of rebellion against all such external authority. And yet the Nazis quoted Frederich Nietzsche at great length in support of their ideology (see also here). Martin Heidegger, one of the foremost existentialist thinkers in history, turned out to have been a proud member of the Nazi Party. And even famed existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre – who fought to resist fascism in his Nazi-occupied France during WWII – ultimately merely chose another totalitarian ideology in its place (Sartre identified himself as a Marxist and a Maoist).
Georg Lukács observed (in The Destruction of Reason, 1954, page 5) that tracing a path to Hitler involved the name of nearly every major German philosopher since Hegel: Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Dilthy, Simmel, Scheler, Heidegger, Jaspers, Weber. Rather than merely being amoral monsters, the Nazis emerged out of a distinguished liberal secular humanist intellectual tradition.
Max Weinreich documented in Hitler’s Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany’s Crimes against the Jewish People, an exhaustive study of the complicity of German intellectuals with the Nazi regime. Far from opposing the Nazi regime, we find that German academia actively provided the intellectual justification for Nazi fascism as well as the conceptual framework for the Holocaust. Weinreich does not claim that German scholars intended the Holocaust, but he argues that the Holocaust would not have been possible without them.
He asks, “Did they administer the poison? By no means; they only wrote the prescription.”
How could such a thing happen?
Very easily, it turns out.
The existentialists (along with the secular humanists and the liberals), deny the transcendent, deny objective truth, and deny the objective morality that derive from transcendence and objective truth. Rather than any preordained system – whether moral or theological – existentialist anchored meaning not to any ideals or abstractions, but in the individual’s personal existence. Life has no ultimate meaning; meaning is personal; and human beings must therefore create their own meaning for themselves.
One should already begin to see the problem: since existentialism, by its very nature, refuses to give objective answers to moral or ideological questions, a particular existentialist might choose to follow either a democrat or totalitarian ideology – and it frankly doesn’t matter which. All that matters is that the choice be a genuine choice.
Existentialists didn’t merely acknowledge this abandonment of transcendent morality, they positively reveled in it. In his book St. Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre celebrated the life of a criminal. Genet was a robber, a drug dealer, and a sexual deviant. By all conventional moral standards, Genet was an evil man. But for Sartre, even ostensibly evil actions could be moral if they were performed in “good faith.” And since Sartre’s Genet consciously chose to do what he did, and took responsibility for his choices and his actions, he was a saint in existentialist terms.
And the problem becomes even worse: by rejecting the concepts of transcendence, objective meaning, truth, and moral law, and by investing ultimate authority in the human will (i.e. Nietzsche’s “will to power”, Hitler’s “triumph of the will”), existentialism played directly into the hands of fascism — which preached the SAME doctrines. If fascism can be defined as “violent and practical resistance against the process of transcendence,” as Ernst Nolte defined it, then it’s affinities with existentialism are crystal clear. The two movements became part of the same stream of thought.
Modern Nietzsche followers argue that Nietzsche was not a racial anti-Semite. For the sake of argument maybe he wasn’t; but he was without any question an intellectual anti-Semite, who attacked the Jews for their ideas and their ethics — particularly as they contributed to Western civilization and to Christianity (which he also actively despised). And in addition to Nietzsche’s intellectual anti-Semitism was his utter contempt for any form of abstractions — particularly as they related to the transcendental categories of morality and reason. Nietzsche maintained that abstraction of life resulted from abstraction of thought. And he blamed Christianity – which he rightly blamed as a creation of the Jews – for the denial of life manifested in Christian morality.
And, unlike most pseudo-intellectuals of today, Nietzsche was consistent: in his attack against Christianity, he attacked Judeo-Christian morality. He attacked the Christian value of other-centered love, and argued that notions of compassion and mercy favored the weak and the unfit, thereby breeding more weakness. Don’t you dare think for a single nanosecond that Hitler didn’t take the arguments of this beloved-by-liberals philosopher and run down the field with them toward the death camps.
The Nazis aligned themselves not only against the Jews but against the the Judeo-Christian God and the Judeo-Christian morality the Jews represented. A transcendent lawgiving God, who reveals His moral law on real tablets of stone for mankind to follow, was anathema to the fascists. They argued that such transcendence alienates human beings from nature and from themselves (i.e., from their own genuine choices). The fascist intellectuals sought to forge a new spirituality of immanence, focused upon nature, on human emotions, and on the community. The fascists sought to restore the ancient pre-Christian consciousness, the ancient mythic sensibility in the form of the land and the blood, in which individuals experience unity with nature, with each other, and with their own deepest impulses.
Gene Edward Veith in his book Modern Fascism: Liquidating the Judeo-Christian worldview writes:
The fascist rebellion against transcendence restored the ancient pagan consciousness. With it came barbarism, a barbarism armed with modern technology and intellectual sophistication. The liquidation of the transcendent moral law and “Jewish” conscience allowed the resurgence of the most primitive and destructive emotions, the unleashing of original sin (page 14).
Nietzsche argued that God is dead, and Hitler tried to finish Him off by eradicating the Jews. What is less known is that he also planned to solve the “church problem” after the war. Hitler himself said:
“The war is going to be over. The last great task of our age will be to solve the church problem. It is only then that the nation will be wholly secure” [From Hitler’s Tabletalk (December 1941), quoted in The Nazi Years: A Documentary History, ed. Joachim Remak, 1990, page 105].
Hitler boasted that “I have six divisions of SS composed of men absolutely indifferent in matters of religion. It doesn’t prevent them from going to their deaths with serenity in their souls.” And Himmler said, “Men who can’t divest themselves of manners of previous centuries, and scoff and sling mud at things which are ‘holy’ and matters of belief to others, once and for all do not belong in the SS.”
With the creed “God is dead” and the resulting “death of God,” Nietzsche predicted that energizing conflict and revolution would reemerge in a great wave of nihilism. Human beings would continue to evolve, he said, nodding to Darwinism. And man would ultimately give way to Superman. And Nietzsche said that this Superman would not accept the anachronistic abstract, transcendental meanings imposed by disembodied Judeo-Christian rationalism or by a life-denying religion. Rather, this Superman would CREATE meaning for himself and for the world as a whole.
The Superman, according to Nietzsche, would be an artist who could shape the human race – no longer bound by putrefying and stultifying and stupefying transcendence – to his will. “Man is for him an un-form, a material, an ugly stone that needs a sculptor,” he wrote. Such a statement did not merely anticipate the Darwinist-based Nazi eugenics movement. It demonstrated how the exaltation of the human will could and would lead not to general liberty, as one might have expected, but to the control of the many by the elite — with those of the weaker in will being subjugated to the will of the Supermen.
Nietzsche’s new ethic became the rationale for all the Nazi atrocities that would follow. As Nietzsche himself put it, “The weak and the failures shall perish: the first principle of OUR love of man. And they shall even be given every possible assistance. What is more harmful than any vice? Active pity for all the failures and the weak: Christianity” (in “The Anti-Christ” in Portable Nietzsche, p. 570). We see here also the exemplification of yet another legacy left behind by Nietzsche that was picked up by the Nazi and afterward by secular humanist atheists today: the Nietzschean attitude of flippant, sarcastic contempt for all the ordinary human values that had resulted from Judeo-Christianity.
One of the ordinary human values that had resulted from Judeo-Christianity was the fundamental sanctity of human life. But the Nazis had their own concept – Lebensunwertes Leben (“life unworthy of life”). And nearly fifty million of the most innocent and helpless human beings have perished as a result of an existentialist philosophy that survived the fall of the Nazis in liberal thought, which celebrates pro-existentialist “pro-choice” above human life.
Nietzsche’s philosophy underlies the thought of all the later existentialists, and the darker implications of his thought proved impossible to ignore.
And Martin Heidegger, in his own personal choice to commit himself to National Socialism, did not ignore them.
There is more that needs to be understood.
Martin Heidegger invoked Nietzsche in his 1933 Rectoral Address, in his speech entitled, “The Self-Assertion of the German University,” in which he articulated his commitment to the integration of academia with National Socialism. He began by asking, if Nietzsche is correct in saying that God is dead, what are the implications for knowledge?
As Heidegger explained, if God is dead, there is no longer a transcendent authority or reference point for objective truth. Whereas classical thought, exemplified by the Greeks, could confidently search for objective truth, today, after the death of God, truth becomes intrinsically “hidden and uncertain.” Today the process of questioning is “no longer a preliminary step that is surmounted on the way to the answer and thus to knowing; rather, questioning itself becomes the highest form of knowing.”
Heidegger’s conclusion became accepted to the point of becoming a commonplace of contemporary liberal thought: that knowledge is a matter of process, not content. With the death of God, there is no longer any set of absolutes or abstract ideals by which existence must be ordered. Such “essentialism” is an illusion; and knowledge in the sense of objective, absolute truth must be challenged. The scholar is not one who knows or searches for some absolute truth, but the one who questions everything that pretends to be true.
Again, one would think that such a skeptical methodology would be highly incompatible with fascism, with its practice of subjecting people to an absolute human authority. And yet this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of fascism. In fact, Heidegger’s Rectoral Address was warmly endorsed by the National Socialists for a very good reason: the fascists saw themselves as iconoclasts, interrogating the old order and boldly challenging all transcendent absolutes.
We find that in this same address in which Heidegger asserts that “questioning itself becomes the highest form of knowing,” Heidegger went on to advocate expelling academic freedom from the university:
“To give oneself the law is the highest freedom. The much-lauded ‘academic freedom’ will be expelled from the university.”
Heidegger argued that the traditional canons of academic freedom were not genuine but only negative, encouraging “lack of concern” and “arbitrariness.” Scholars must become unified with each other and devote themselves to service. In doing so, he stated, “the concept of the freedom of German students is now brought back to it’s truth.”
Now, the claim that freedom would somehow emerge when academic freedom is eliminated might be sophistry of the worst kind, but it is not mere rhetorical doublespeak. Why? Because Heidegger was speaking existentially, calling not for blind obedience, but for a genuine commitment of the will. Freedom was preserved because “to give oneself the law” was a voluntary, freely chosen commitment. Academic freedom as the disinterested pursuit of truth shows “arbitrariness,” parking of the old essentialist view that truth is objective and transcendent. The essentialist scholar is detached and disengaged, showing “lack of concern,” missing the sense in which truth is ultimately personal, a matter of the will, demanding personal responsibility and choice. In the new order, the scholar will be fully engaged in service to the community. Academic freedom is alienating, a function of the old commitment to moral and intellectual absolutes.
And what this meant in practice could be seen in the Bavarian Minister of Culture’s directive to professors in Munich, that they were no longer to determine whether something “is true, but whether it is in keeping with the direction of the National Socialist revolution” (Hans Schemm, quoted in Hermann Glaser, The Cultural Roots of National Socialism, tr. Ernest A. Menze, 1978, p. 99).
I point all of the above out to now say that it is happening all over again, by intellectuals who unknowingly share most of the same tenets that made the horror possible the last time.
We live in a time and in a country in which the all-too modern left has virtually purged the university of conservatives and conservative thought. This is simply a fact that is routinely confirmed. And as a mater of routine, conservative speakers need not apply at universities. If they are actually invited to speak, they are frequently shouted down by a relative few liberal activists. And leftwing censorship is commonplace. Free speech is largely gone, in a process that simply quashes unwanted views. We have a process today in which a professor who is himself employing fascist tactics calls a student “a fascist bastard.” And why did he do so? Because the student gave a speech in a speech class choosing a side on a topic that the professor did not like.
We live in a society in which too many of our judges have despised a system of objective laws from an objective Constitution and have imposed their own will upon both. Judicial activist judges have largely driven transcendent religion and the transcendent God who gives objective moral laws out of the public sphere.
Today, we live in a society that will not post the Ten Commandments – the epitome of transcendent divinely-ordained moral law – in public schools. And why not? Because judges ruled that:
“If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments,” which, the Court said, is “not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.”
One can only marvel that such justices so cynically debauched the thought of the founding fathers whose ideas they professed to be upholding.
Justices of the Supreme Court agreed with this fallacious ruling even as the figure of Moses holding the Ten Commandments rules atop the very building in which they betrayed our nation’s founding principles.
And thus the left has stripped the United States of America bare of transcendent moral law, just as their intellectual forebears did prior to WWII in Nazi Germany. And thus the intellectual left has largely stripped the United States of America from free debate within academia largely by pursuing the same line of reasoning that Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger employed to do the same in Nazi Germany. We saw this very feature evidenced by leftist scientists who threw aside their scientific ethics in order to purge climatologists who came to a different conclusion.
The climate that led to fascism and to Nazism in Germany did not occur overnight, even though the final plunge may have appeared to be such to an uninformed observer. It occurred over a period of a half a dozen decades or so, with the transcendent and objective moral foundations having been systematically torn away. And after that degree of cancer had been reached, it only took the right leader or the right event to plunge the world into madness.